Leaders: Labour’s re-assessment begs question of its true purpose

Labour have announced a shake-up of their candidate selection system. Picture: PA
Labour have announced a shake-up of their candidate selection system. Picture: PA
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IT IS a damning indictment of the state of the Labour Party north of the Border that two of its senior figures, Scottish leader Johann Lamont and shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, feel the need to signal what is being presented as a fundamental shake-up of the way the party selects its candidates as a means of promoting a higher quality of representative at Holyrood and Westminster.

That Labour lacks talent in depth, particularly at Holyrood, has been obvious for at least the last two Scottish parliaments, but to somehow argue, as Lamont and Alexander imply, this is all down to the way candidates are selected is disingenuous. It is also down to people like Alexander, one of the brightest of his generation, deciding to ply their political trade at Westminster not Holyrood. The impression Labour regarded the Scottish parliament as of lesser importance was reinforced by the defection to Westminster of two of their best MSPs, Cathy Jamieson and Margaret Curran.

Despite this, there is some merit in Labour adopting the system used by the Tories, in which the party centrally selects a pool of candidates, which go onto an “A” list from which local parties can choose who they want to stand. This system has the advantage of there being a higher chance of bright candidates being chosen instead of the party relying on a local worthy who has served many years but will contribute little to the parliament in which they sit. The counter argument, and one which Labour must address, is this system undermines local democracy. It also, it appears, will not apply to sitting MSPs, giving the unlikely impression they are the best the party has. On balance there is a benefit in such a system if it improves the quality of MSPs and MPs, and in so doing improves the quality of elected representative and potential ministers.

However, there is a more fundamental problem which Mrs Lamont and Mr Alexander have not, at this stage, addressed. It is this: what is Labour for? You can have the best elected representatives in the world in parliament but they will be impotent if they have no clear idea what their party stands for and, therefore, what they are elected to achieve.

As they gather for their annual Scottish conference, Labour would be advised to turn its thoughts to that question. With the SNP occupying the social democratic centre-left ground, said to be where the Scottish political centre of gravity lies, alongside the Liberal Democrats, and the Tories being a centre-right party, with the emphasis on the first part of that epithet, where does that leave Labour? Politically, it would seem, somewhere in the squeezed middle, to use David Miliband’s phrase. A glimpse, perhaps, of the beginnings of answering this question comes today from Mr Miliband who advocates solidarity across the UK and a core idea. Labour has a long way to go developing a purpose before it can hope to get these supposedly brilliant new candidates elected.

Time to redraw the line on road safety

Critical to any road network with a regard for safety are clear and well-maintained road markings. They are vital aids to responsible driving and they are particularly important in Scotland during the long winter months, when drivers have to contend with poor light as well as adverse weather conditions. It is against this background that the report from the Road Safety Markings Association makes for troubling reading. It finds road markings are vanishing at an “alarming” rate; that markings on almost two-thirds of our roads are “barely there” and that emergency repairs were required on 87 per cent of Scotland’s road network. Arguably more worrying is that major roads in the “red zone”, or worst condition, include stretches of the heavily-used M9 between Edinburgh and Stirling and the M90 between Fife and Perth.

Local and national government departments are, of course, under considerable financial pressure at this time. Savings and efficiencies are constantly sought. But the maintenance and upkeep of road safety markings are essential parts of the drive to cut down on fatalities and injuries. Tempting though it may be for those responsible for road maintenance to think that markings can go another year without being redone, this is a dangerous economy as well as being a false one. The problem has been exacerbated in Scotland by the previous winter’s atrocious weather, with salt and grit adding to the surface damage inflicted by persistent frost. Clear road markings are of prime importance for the safety of drivers and all who entrust themselves to the roads. The painters should waste no time.

Scotland’s fortune favours Brave

VISITSCOTLAND’S new marketing wheeze might seem to play to a bygone national stereotype. It has teamed up with the Walt Disney Company for a unique world-wide marketing campaign to promote Scottish tourism around the much-anticipated Disney Pixar film, Brave. It is set in the Scottish Highlands and features some of Scotland’s biggest stars. The two will begin work to create a marketing campaign which will begin this summer. The promotion will see Scotland’s scenery, humour and culture showcased on an unprecedented scale and will position Scotland on the world stage in a way not seen since Braveheart in 1995.

But is this not a touch familiar – the imagery of mystical glens, Highland folk and romantic castles? It conjures up images of an animated Brigadoon – just the sort of depiction Scots have bridled at for so long. But it is traditional images such as those that have been used to great effect by tourist organisations in other countries. Our Highland scenery is noble, awe-inspiring and romantic. It has long been our signature round the world – even though Scots and visitors alike well know that real life is different. The potential could be massive, and VisitScotland will have made a very shrewd choice indeed if it keeps Scotland in the premier league of global visitor destinations.